We know our guts and brains are connected through our microbiomes, but just how much control do microbes have over our moods and more?
The Gut-Brain Connection
Your gut and brain communicate both physically and biochemically through the gut-brain axis—a bi-directional communication pathway.
If your gut microbes change, your brain and mood, and the health of your immune system (which is housed in your gut) can change. Conversely, if your mood is altered by stress, crowds, noise, sleeplessness, hunger, or even changes in temperature, your microbiome can be dramatically altered.
So, who is driving the chariot? Is your microbiome holding the reins of your immunity, thoughts, actions, desires, and physiological functions, or is it your mind? And what can you do about it?
Is Your Gut or Your Brain in Charge of Mood, Immunity, and More?
According to the many studies your microbes seem to be quietly and invisibly holding the reins.
And bad bacteria and viruses have learned how to game this system. For example, to ensure its own survival, the polio virus rides on the back of beneficial gut bacteria to systematically gain access to the body and wreak havoc on the nervous system.
The single-cell parasite Toxoplasma gondii causes toxoplasmosis or flu-like symptoms in humans, but can only sexually reproduce in cats.1,5 If it infects a rat, it suppresses the rats fear instinct and replaces it with a kind of sexual attraction to cats—making it easy prey for the cat. Parasites are microorganisms that live off the host of another and have interplayed with the gut microbiome for millions of years of evolution. These interactions, like bacteria-virus interactions, can be either beneficial or harmful—it all depends on the balance. According to Ayurveda and emerging science, the outcome of these interactions is largely dependent on the host environments, how much food they consume, and the quality of their digestion.
The area of gut-brain communication is still in its infancy. How a stable of gut bugs can make you crave a Snickers bars has been mapped by tracking linear pathways via the vagus nerve, which connects the gut and brain. Studies however, have seen these same gut-brain connections even when the vagus nerve has been severed, suggesting alternative pathways.
There is also an area of research based on a level of quantum communication where information is carried from the gut to the brain and back at the speed of light via ultraweak photon emissions called biophotons released from out DNA as well as the DNA of bacteria viruses and parasites.
New studies have found that these biophotons are affected by intention and may be responsible for intention, desire and cravings as well. This area of research suggest that as soon as you can think it, you brain, gut, and body can respond to it. Watch out for those Starbucks logos! Your brain can manifest that desire at the speed of light!
What You Feed Your Microbes Makes a Difference
It is very clear that your gut microbes feed on different foods. Some love fats, and others feed on carbs, starches, and sugars.
The diet you eat is directly feeding and helping to flourish a certain type of microbiome, which in turn affects your mood.
For example, if you have a sweet tooth and indulge quite often, you’ve likely created a large population of gut bugs that love to consume sweets. So when your gut bugs get hungry, they send a message up to your brain for you to crave sweets. Once those bugs get their sweet fix, they can release the hormone dopamine, the reward hormone, to deliver a feeling of pleasure from the sweet. It’s like a little “thank you” from the carb-eating microbes.
While this might construct a cute visual, the problem is that craving too much sugar comes with some serious health consequences. Most of us have created entire stables of microbes in our guts that are very skilled at delivering sugar into the bloodstream—an efficiency linked to a greater risk of pre-diabetes.
This is the critical reason why changing your diet with each season is so important. Feeding a new stable of microbes with each changing season prevents your system from being overwhelmed with one type of food that feeds only one kind of bug.
Winter foods and herbs that are typically warmer, heavier and fattier have also been shown to protect the nervous system from winter sadness or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Fall and winter harvested herbs like ashwagandha and bacopa are known brain derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) that build brain cells and support mood stability during the winter months when the sun is not strong enough to provide enough mood stability and immune support. The fall and winter harvest make up for the lack of sun and allow us to thrive in the winter as well.
Ayurveda recommends what is called a sattvic lifestyle to support populations of beneficial, positive, thought-provoking microbes, which were described as krimi in ancient Ayurvedic texts.2,3
The microbes that live on our foods and in our guts were described in detail, and the proliferation of bad bacteria or krimi was blamed on poor hygiene—a concept that was 2,000 years ahead of its time.2
To battle the risk of krimi, Ayurvedic diets and lifestyles were developed. Thousands of years ago, the Ayurvedic texts described positive behaviors, non-violent lifestyles, and healthy foods that can genetically alter the proliferation of gut bugs in a positive way.8 And now modern Western science has shown that these diets and lifestyle protocols specifically support the healthy proliferation of beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract, respiratory tract, and on our skin.2,4
There is ample evidence to suggest that stress and violence will negatively affect one’s microbiome, mood, immunity, and bodily functions.1
To create a stable of life-supporting, or sattvic, bugs, they suggested living a lifestyle that includes, but is not limited to, eating whole, seasonal foods; avoiding stimulants and violence; practicing loving kindness, peace, and rest; and following daily and seasonal circadian cycles of nature and much, much more.1,6
Science is suggesting more and more that our behavior breeds microbes, and those microbes breed behavior.